The woman walked in through the door and saw the man. He was intent on his work, bending over the workbench. She was carrying two bottles of water and placed them on the bench next to him. Without looking up he reached for one of the bottles, twisted off the plastic top and drank deeply. He did the same with the other bottle, and drank until it was almost empty.
“The water’s warm,” he said. “You should have kept it out of the sun.”
She watched him working. She wished he would look up and acknowledge her. She, too, was thirsty. The two bottles was her only water and she had given them to him. She was sweating from her work in the fields and was tired. She thought that he – like her – must have some water as she knew that everyone was given the same ration, but she never saw his supplies.
She wished he would offer her some water without her asking. Being offered water only when you asked took away most of the joy of drinking.
She wiped the sweat from her forehead and sat down opposite the bench.
“It was hot outside today, and everyone needed me to do lots of work for them. It made me thirsty.”
“Don’t give the people what they want. You wouldn’t be so thirsty then.” he said, without raising his head.
She wished she had some water to drink. Gallons of icy water, enough to pour over her head in abandon. Her mouth felt dry. Her skin felt tight.
“May I have some of your water, please?” she asked finally.
“Why did you give it to me, if you wanted it back?” he asked.
“I wanted to please you.” she said, but her voice had dropped to little more than a whisper.
“Why?” he asked, shrugging his shoulders.
She didn’t reply, though she knew the answer. She loved him – that was the answer.
A few moments passed. She sank into a trance, feeling her muscles relaxing after the hard day’s work.
“Please may I have some of your water?” she asked. Her stomach felt empty and she felt afraid because she knew a refusal would hurt her more than she could bear.
He was angry now. He threw down his tools and looked at her, giving her long aggressive stare. In silence he passed her the almost-empty second bottle.
“Here. Can’t you see I’m working. Have a sip, but give the bottle back to me. I need the water more than you. This is important work that I’m doing.”
She tipped the bottle to her lips and watched him watching her.
“That’s enough” he said, and reached out to take the bottle from her. “Any more and you’ll get used to it. You shouldn’t need that much water. If you didn’t get so thirsty, you wouln’t need to drink my water. We should be self-sufficient, not relying on others”.
She shrugged her shoulders despondently, broken. The sip of water had done little more than wet her lips. Couldn’t he see that it had been her water that he was drinking? She was still so thirsty. She couldn’t understand why he didn’t give her his water, why he didn’t want to give her his water.
She swung her legs under the bench, looking down at her knees. She knew her emotions were flying away with her, that soon she would be weeping whether she liked it or not, flooded by the moment. She was so sad and so miserable. She tried to rationalise his refusal. Perhaps he really did not have any more water. Perhaps for some reason he didn’t get given as much as anyone else. Perhaps he needed more water than other people and so needed her water as well as his. Perhaps he knew something that she didn’t know about the future and knew that he had to keep some water in reserve. Perhaps he been denied water when he was just a boy, and so needed to keep control of what he had. She wished she really knew how much water he had. Perhaps he had no water to give her – wouldn’t it be unfair of her if that was the case to blame him for not giving her what he didn’t have? Perhaps she was being unreasonable. She was being unreasonable. She always ended up there, with her unreasonableness which she gathered up and squashed until it took up no space.
Between them there was a gulf of pain. She needed more water than he had given her. He said that he had no more to give her. Was she unreasonable needing as much water as she did? She thought about her friends in the field. She thought that they needed the same amount of water as her, but perhaps she was wrong. Her whole body ached, the thirst dragging down her limbs. I am dying of thirst, she thought. I have been slowly dying for years. She stood up and looked out of the window.
She saw a couple of the others from the village, a man and a woman. The man had water under his arm too. He smiled at her and waved. He lifted a bottle in the air, and gestured, raising his eyebrows in a friendly smile. He was asking her if she wanted some water.
She stepped over the gap between her needs and what the man at the bench offered her, and walked into the street and took the water and drank. The water flowed through every pore, every capilliary, every hair on her body. She looked up at the other man and smiled.
“Do you want more water?” he asked.
Choose your ending …
A. The man sitting inside at the bench put in head in his hands and wept, his sadness engulfing him, his body convulsing with sadness. He had no words and no hope.
B. The man sitting inside at the bench carried on working, pausing only to swig the final drops of the water bottle.
C. The man sitting inside at the bench stopped doing what he was doing and reached down underneath the bench to find another bottle of water.
D. The man sitting inside at the bench stopped doing what he was doing. He got up and ran outside. He called the girl back. His cry stopped her in her tracks. She turned round and they embraced each other, he sobbing as he realised how close he had allowed his history to come to stealing his future from him, she sobbing with relief.